In 1999 a 30-year-old Scot called Will Ramsay was selling paintings, but thinking about wine. After decades of stuffy elitism, cheaper prices and friendlier labelling were making fine (or at least fine-ish) wines accessible to the masses; Ramsay’s idea was to do the same for art. So he set up the first Affordable Art Fair in Battersea, south London, bringing together small galleries, emerging artists and customers in what he hoped was “a friendly environment”. The fair was restricted to selling contemporary pieces—“we defined ‘contemporary’ as the artist being alive, so there’s no argy-bargy about it”—while the “affordable” bit meant that every work was priced between £50 and £4,000. Thirteen years later, there are now 18 fairs, held in 11 countries across four continents. Not bad for a man who studied art only to A-level.
His approach to selling seems some way from mass-market turn-and-burn, though. Instead, he says he wants his customers to “appreciate” both what they buy and the craftsmanship involved—at his end of the market, the price of a piece is based on the time taken to make it, and materials used, as opposed to the reputation of the artist. Ramsay encourages his customers to ask questions, because “the more you build a bond with the artist and the artwork, the more you’ll enjoy it”. And at least half of the exhibitors at his fairs are local artists and galleries—“art is so place-specific,” he says, and most customers like the native connection.
So does Ramsay own much art himself? “Too much!” He used to buy one piece from every fair, until their proliferation stopped this being feasible. But his enthusiasm has not waned. He says the Battersea fair—“the baby”—remains his favourite, but inevitably the attractions of Asia have caught his eye: “It hasn’t been nearly as badly affected as the West by the recent turmoil, and the Singapore fair is whizz-bang amazing.”
Though Ramsay says he takes a “jeans-and-no-tie” approach to dressing, he has been photographed at private views in some fairly eye-popping outfits, and admits to owning a green velvet suit. To appease his predilection for colour, we paired a cool aqua-blue shirt with a sunbleached-raspberry suit—like the Miami seafront on legs. The jacket has a particularly long drop between bottom button and bottom hem, which flatters taller men, while the simple cut and flat, oversized mother-of-pearl buttons keep it fresh. Contemporary, decorative: a good fit to sell art in.
Pink silk/wool two-button suit, £600, by Timothy Everest; blue cotton shirt, £195, by Ozwald Boateng; “Classique” enamel watch in yellow gold, £12,400, by Breguet